Some may lose but Family Weekend is a win

Many may have been confused by the sudden enrollment of middle-aged students seen wandering around our campus beginning on Friday. But there is no need to be alarmed; these older “students” were our beloved parents and other family members, visiting for WCU’s Annual Family Weekend. The weekend began on Friday, September 29th and ended on Sunday, October 1. During that time, families were welcomed with receptions in the Multicultural Center and the Honors College, a full schedule of activities, and the Mountain Heritage Festival to enjoy their weekend in Cullowhee. On Friday afternoon, I sat in the UC and watched many parents arrive with their little Catamounts to the UC Multipurpose room for the weekend’s registration. I spoke with Rhonda Bryant, in charge of the registration, who said the weekend ahead was “to be expected to be really busy with many parents coming in for the activities.” During Friday, parents were given an array of event choices to attend. Whether parents were more athletically or theatrically inclined, everyone would be pleased with the line-up of activities Western presented for this weekend. Any golf fans could have arrived as early as 8:30 am to participate in the 2nd Annual Bob Waters Memorial Golf Tournament held at the High Vista Country Club. There, they could join in on any of the competitions of the following: hole in one contest, straightest drive contest, and longest putt contest. If traditional golf wasn’t an interest, the newly instated disc golf course was holding a tournament later in the afternoon. Other athletic events were ahead as the women’s soccer team juggled, kicked, and fought against Furman University later that Friday night and unfortunately, found no successful end to the game after a loss of 2-0. For the thespian interests, the University Players presented their first play of the year-Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs at the historic Hoey Auditorium. At Illusions in the University Center, more entertainment was provided by comedian Jim Ruel, also known as “That Native American Comedian.” Ruel has appeared in NBC Four Directions Talent Search and is presently involved with The World Stands Up, a television show filmed and airing in London, UK. It’s difficult to imagine this funny fellow was once destined to become an engineer when it is obvious his purpose is to be at a mic as he splits sides on the stand-up scene. He is a natural now with eight years of experience. Visit if you enjoyed his show and are interested in other comedians of the Native American Comedy Tour. If you and your parents were interested in both excitement and laughs, other stage entertainment for the night included Team Rootberry, a juggling team with the skills powerful enough to tame fire, literally. The two team members, Jonathon Root and Bill Berry, are masters at sword swallowing and juggling with anything from toilet paper to a flaming chainsaw. If that wasn’t impressive enough, their awards include International Jugglers Association People’s Choice Award and they hold seven championships in juggling and five world records. They’ve been to Venezuela and Poland with their shows but still love college campuses the most; Family Weekend presented an ideal audience. Their clean humor amalgamated with an astounding performance kept Catamounts enthralled. The options for fun didn’t end there but continued with dance lessons for everyone earlier in the evening at Illusions. If parents, siblings, or grandma wanted to just relax and entertain their inner-pirate, Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was showing as the weekly movie at the UC Theater. And if you weren’t interested in these events and you had tickets, like my bluegrass-guru boyfriend and I, you knew who was in town for the night. Ms. Rhonda Vincent and the Rage arrived at Western, directly from Nashville’s International Bluegrass Music Association Awards Ceremony. I appreciated bluegrass before the concert, but afterwards, I was a fan. It is impossible not to appreciate great musicians who know their instruments like the back of their hands, and there were no exceptions for the night’s concert. Openers for Vincent included a local family and gospel group, Mountain Faith. Its stars were Samuel Ray McMahan, father and uncle to the other group members and bass player. Thirteen-year-old Summer McMahan led vocals and showed talent on the fiddle and mandolin with her brother Brayden (twelve-years-old) on the banjo, and their guitar-playing cousin John Robert Morgan (eleven-years-old). The children and Samuel Ray were a treat to gospel fans and displayed an immeasurable gift for music. Visit if you are interested in local gospel music. Samuel Ray would be more than excited to make any bookings for churches. The next group, Whitewater Bluegrass Company, matched Mountain Faith’s love of the stage and blew the audience away with its talented members. Ted White thumped the bass strings, Bill Byerly joined vocals and lead with the guitar, new addition Buddy Melton played the fiddle and also led vocals, and Mark Pruett picked the banjo. If anyone knows their bluegrass pop culture, Mark Pruitt is an alumnus of Western Carolina, the winner of seven Grammy Awards, and is celebrated for his work with Ricky Skaggs. Bill Byerly is also an alumnus of Western and his daughter is currently attending the University. If anyone enjoys blues and jazz, they would have loved their guest mandolin player’s B.B. King-style of picking with elongated notes and intricate strumming that reflected the traditional blues guitar. The group’s charismatic dynamics with each other and the audience kept me entertained with laughs until their finish. For information on the Company, visit then cleared the stage for “The New Queen of Bluegrass” and her bold band of pickers. She came wearing an elegant blue dress (hmm, blue for bluegrass?) and a sparkling long coat (also blue) that caught every stage light and illuminated her presence. After a warm welcome from the crowd, Rhonda Vincent began with her new hit “All American Bluegrass Girl” which delightfully captures her great love of bluegrass with the lyrics “though I might be from Missouri, I’m as bluegrass as can be.” The Rage consists of Hunter Berry, a master of the fiddle, great songwriter Mickey Harris on vocals and bass, legend Kenny Ingram playing the banjo, and uprising star Josh Williams in charge of the guitar, vocals, and the mandolin, as well. The group created an affluent sound that can only be produced by an amazing cast of bluegrass geniuses. As they smile at one another and make Dolly Parton jokes (pertaining to certain appendages Parton was graced with), it is apparent they are comfortable with one another and have an absolute unwavering love of the music. As I stated before, I wasn’t a true fan until this show and I left feeling proud to be in Western North Carolina, a center for this amazing musical genre. We left with autographs from Mark Pruett and a picture with Rhonda and the Rage. If you are also a fan of bluegrass or interested in Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, visit their website next day, Saturday the 30, was a smooth transition from last night’s evening of bluegrass to the 32 Mountain Heritage Day Festival. This festival is renowned all over the country and Western’s campus is honored to the celebration’s annual home. With so many events of the festival to enjoy, I began with the wood-cutting competition and spoke with its winner, Niles Roberts, who has been attending the event for over ten years. “I just love Mountain Heritage Day. I think it’s all about having a good time and for people to enjoy others’ company these beautiful mountains,” he said after being presented as the fastest wood-cutter of the year. I moved through the booths and saw many parents wandering with their Catamount kiddies. I visited the Anthropology Club’s table for making traditional Native American pots and the Cherokee studies table where they were earning money for their upcoming spring break trip. There they had a podcast of Cherokee word pronunciation and animal flashcards that many children enjoyed.And of course, there was phenomenal music again as I listened to Whitewater Bluegrass Company and listened to a local group of Cherokees singing in the Cherokee language, which was perfect timing as a game of stickball began on the intramural field. If you have never witnessed a game of stickball, it is truly entertaining as there are two groups who fight one another for the chance to score for their team. If you enjoy lacrosse, you would love stickball as they are very similar. The food included was varied at different booths of traditional Cherokee treats, Scottish and Greek cuisine, and also more old-fashioned choices such as hand-churned ice-cream and freshly squeezed lemonade.After visiting the car show and examining it oldest entry, the 1923 Model T, we left the festival grounds and walked through campus where the band was tuning its instruments and preparing for the night’s events. Parents, little brothers, and sisters joined Catamount students in a tailgating feast that promoted a social gala of interaction between parents and great food. They later communed at Western’s football game against the Georgia Southern Eagles.The next morning, parents and students could either treat themselves to a campus brunch or go for an afternoon rafting trip with Base Camp Cullowhee along the Nantahala River. But Sunday marked the end of the weekend, and sadly, parents retreated from the campus and drove away from Western, leaving their Catamounts to return to studying and socializing once again. Even though Western lost to Georgia Southern, Family Weekend was an overall win and success to faculty, students, and family members, and we hope that next year’s will be just as rewarding. Gary Moore, a visiting parent, summed his experience quite perfectly, “It’s an amazing weekend that’s just fun and cultural. I look forward to it every year.”